Behind the Mask: Tunde Olaniran’s Futuristic Style

Below is an interview I did with artist Tunde Olaniran about his fashion style:

1) Describe your style. What different elements make up your style?
My style is meant to evoke visceral emotions as well as exuberant nostalgia. I blend very tribal shapes and influences, 90s grunge and punk, and large, changeable shapes and draping. It’s part fantasy, part S&M, part science fiction. It’s DIY, since most of my pieces are completely custom-made. People often say “Damn! where did you get that?”

2) When and how did you develop your unique style?
Everything relating to my music and style ended up evolving during college. I got a job in the costume department of my university’s theatre program. I learned a little bit about sewing and met my future costumer, Christina Tomlinson. She and I have been working together for a few years. Getting to collaborate on different performance and video gear has opened my mind, when it comes to style.

3) What is your favorite clothing item?
Part of me wants to say my fog machine! I literally keep it in the trunk of my car so it’s always nearby. Aside from that, my favorite item is probably a large stained glass necklace I designed and had made for me by Crystal Pepperdine, who runs a nonprofit called Flint Handmade. I think the custom pieces are what make me feel the most powerful. A few years ago, I had a silver batwing poncho that was a staple for me at shows.

4) How do you incorporate fashion into your music career?
I’ll go through stages where I wear 2-3 different pieces onstage for a year. Right now it’s different denim jackets/vests w/spikes and fringe, one of my stained glass necklaces, and face paint. It’s kind of like my “uniform;” I think repetition helps people to get into the vibe of who I am as an artist. I’d want people to be able to dress up as “Tunde Olaniran” for Halloween. I’m trying to plan out the next phase of costumes, and we’re looking at different athletic-influenced clothes mixed with exo-skeletons. It should be interesting!

My dancers are meant to be an extension of my subconscious, and they are great opportunity to complement or sometimes challenge what I’m wearing onstage. They also go through “seasons,” where they rotate between 2-3 looks for several months. I try to keep their palettes pretty muted, and let the shapes and draping make a larger statement. Movement is a lot more powerful for live performances. Since I have 4 dancers that will interchange for shows based on availability, they also wear signature sunglasses and face-paint, to help conform to the onstage identity. Shopping for them is hilarious, because I’ll be marching around forever 21 with laser-sharp focus, grabbing two of everything. I can’t tell you how many times I’m mistaken for an employee!

5)   Who are your fashion and style influences?
I love Robyn and Ebony Bones, for different reasons. I like how Ebony Bones plays with volume and proportion, and isn’t afraid to look distorted or strangely-shaped. Robyn is really sexy without being undressed; she inhabits a dope space between androgyny, athleticism, and girly impishness.

In fashion and design, the list can go on and on. Gareth Pugh, Eiko Ishioka, Becca McCharen (designer for Chromat). Really, I should just say “the Internet” because the availability of global influences to my generation through social media means everything gets gobbled up, remixed, and then slanged out on tumblr. People are less likely to be completely devoted to a specific brand or designer, and more interested in how they can create a collage that speaks to them as individuals. M.I.A. is one of the best examples of that; her music, videos, fashion all speak to that hyper-collage aesthetic.

6) How do you think your style is influential?
I hope that the risks I take empower others to break from traditional imagery associated with race and gender binaries. I want people to re-imagine what “black” has to look like, what “male” has to look like. The sooner we can examine these identities as social constructions, the more at peace we can be with ourselves.

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